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Cadernos Saúde Coletiva

versão impressa ISSN 1414-462X

Cad. saúde colet. vol.21 no.1 Rio de Janeiro jan./mar. 2013 



Suicide seasonality: Evidence of 11-year cyclic oscillations in Brazilian suicide rates


Sazonalidade do suicídio: Indícios de oscilações cíclicas de 11 anos nas taxas de suicídio brasileiras



Walter Sydney Dutra Folly

DSc, Adjunct Professor and Researcher at Núcleo Integrado de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação em Educação e Ciências (NIPPEC), UFSE – Itabaiana (SE), Brasil

Correspondence to




Several researchers have studied suicide seasonality through different statistical approaches. In the present research, we performed a detailed statistical study of Brazilian suicide data registered from 1980 to 2010 using a new approach known as Threshold Bias Model (TBM). Eleven-year cyclic oscillations were observed in suicide rates that, at first sight, appear as being negatively correlated with the cycles of solar activity. Such oscillations are more noticeable for males although they also have been observed in the female rates.

Keywords: suicide; seasonal variations; solar activity.


Vários pesquisadores têm estudado a sazonalidade do suicídio utilizando diversas abordagens estatísticas. Na presente pesquisa, realizamos um estudo estatístico dos dados de suicídio brasileiros registrados entre 1980 e 2010 utilizando uma nova abordagem conhecida como Modelo da Tendência Limiar (TBM). Foram observadas oscilações com período de 11 anos nas taxas de suicídio que, à primeira vista, parecem ser negativamente correlacionadas com os ciclos de atividade solar. Essas oscilações foram mais notáveis nas taxas masculinas, ainda que também tenham sido observadas nas taxas femininas.

Palavras-chave: suicídio; variações sazonais; atividade solar.




Suicide seasonality is a multifactorial phenomenon that is often associated with the increased winter-summer variation in the number of sunlight hours that occurs in temperate and polar zones of the globe1,2. Consequently, its occurrence has been little studied in the tropics.

In Brazil, a previous study conducted between 1996 and 2004 in the city of São Paulo (located on the Tropic of Capricorn) did not revealed significant correlation between suicides and the number of sunlight hours3. However, beyond the hypothetical influence of the daily duration of sunlight on suicide rates, several authors have reported that long-term seasonal patterns in such rates may be correlated with solar and geomagnetic activities4-7.

Since seasonal oscillations in suicide rates may be small in comparison with data fluctuations due to death undercounting and/or cause of death misclassification, researchers are using several statistical methods in order to quantify this phenomenon8,9. Considering this, we performed a preliminary study of suicide seasonality in Brazil employing the recently proposed Threshold Bias Model (TBM)10 – a model that provides useful comparison parameters to help us identify seasonality patterns.



The present research considers male and female suicide rates structured by age that were recorded in Brazil from 1980 to 2010. Such data are openly available from the website of DATASUS11. In the same way, the average sunspot numbers considered here (relating to solar cycles 21, 22 and 23) can be freely obtained from the website of the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center (SIDC)12.

All analyses were made using the software Microcal Origin version 5.013. In this software, suicide rates were edited in proper worksheets and plotted as functions of age. Then, we employed the Levenberg-Marquardt method to fit Equation 1 (TBM distribution) to these datasets considering β=11 as discussed in Folly10. The meanings of all TBM parameters were explained in this reference.



After all the distributions were fitted, we used the values of the parameters b, V0 and Cap to calculate the middle-age suicide rates SR (τ1/2) for each year from 1980 to 2010 using the expression SR (τ1/2) = (b-V0). Cap. Such distributions were numerically integrated (using Origin's integration tool) from the critical age tc to infinity in order to determine the areas under the curves. The values of tc can be calculated using Equation 2.

The areas under the TBM distributions and the calculated values of SR (τ1/2) were plotted together with sunspot numbers in a same time scale to facilitate comparisons. In order to quantify the period and amplitude of seasonal oscillations of these data, they were fitted by the function f (T) defined by the Equation 3, in which T is the time in years. The year 1980 was considered as the zero on the time scale.

The Equation 3 defines f (T) as being the sum of a third order polynomial (necessary to fit the secular trend) and a sinusoidal term in which the parameters P5, P6 and P7 are the amplitude, period in years and initial phase respectively.



The TBM distributions were fitted to yearly suicide rates by age from 1980 to 2010 (Figure 1). The obtained parameter values with standard errors, chi-squares, degrees of freedom and p-values are shown in the Table 1. Despite the distributions fitted better the female data, even for males, the differences between fitting curves and statistical data were not significant (all p>0.05), with the worst fit observed for the year 1987 (p=0.975).

We organized the curves for the male datasets in a 3D graph in order to depict their annual evolution over the studied period (Figure 2). By performing numerical integrations, we determined the areas under the fitted distributions for males and females. Such areas are shown in the Figure 3a with the sunspot numbers for solar cycles 21, 22 and 23 on the same time scale. In the same way, the calculated middle-age suicide rates SR (τ1/2) are shown together with sunspot data in Figure 3B.



As previously explained, the values of SR (τ1/2) and the areas under the TBM distributions were fitted by the function f (T) defined by the Equation 3. The obtained parameter values with respective standard errors, chi-squares, degrees of freedom and p-values are shown in Table 2. It was observed that the amplitude (modulus of parameter P5 shown in Table 2) of the sinusoidal part of f (T) fitted to SR (τ1/2) is about 6% of the average value of this quantity for males and 3% for females. In addition, it was found that the periods of the sinusoidal part of f (T) (values in years of P6 shown in Table 2) are closely compatible with the 11-year sunspot cycles. The Figures 3a and b show that the areas under the TBM distributions and the values of SR (τ1/2) present three events of minima in the studied time range: the first in 1979–1980, the second in 1989–1990 and the third in 2001–2002. Such events occurred at approximately the same years of maxima of the sunspot cycles 21, 22 and 23 (Figures 3A and B).



Albeit some researchers have reported positive correlations between suicide rates and sunspot numbers4, our preliminary results are in agreement with the findings of several other authors who have reported negative correlations between these phenomena5-7.

Since the middle-age suicide rates SR (τ1/2) and the areas under the TBM distributions are relatively immune to data fluctuations over the studied age groups, the results of present research can be considered as relatively robust.

Despite the observed oscillations in suicide rates be more prominent for males, they were also noticeable for females. For males, these oscillations are observed over all age groups, but become more intense with increasing ages (Figure 2). Such a progression with age was not clearly observed in the female rates. In Brazil, due to occupational factors, men are more likely to be exposed to sunlight than women14. This fact may hypothetically explain the greater amplitude of oscillations observed in the male suicide rates although this hypothesis has not been tested in the present study. The reader should also be aware that the present results (obtained from nationwide population data) might not be valid at regional level. Interpretations of such results as being valid for small cohorts can lead to ecological fallacy15.

The neurobiological mechanism linking suicide with solar activity remains unknown. Recent studies have positively correlated suicide occurrence with low levels of melatonin16 in populations exposed to increased number of sunlight hours. As such correlation was not investigated in the present work, further researches are required in order to clarify this point.



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2. Björkstén KS, Kripke DF, Bjerregaard P. Accentuation of suicides but not homicides with rising latitudes of Greenland in the sunny months. BMC Psychiatry. 2009;9:20.         [ Links ]

3. Nejar KA, Benseñor IM, Lotufo PA. Sunshine and suicide at the tropic of Capricorn, São Paulo, Brazil, 1996-2004. Rev Saude Publica. 2007;41(6):1062-64.         [ Links ]

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9. Nader IW, Pietschnig J, Niederkrotenthaler T, Kapusta ND, Sonneck G, Voracek M. Suicide seasonality: Complex demodulation as a novel approach in epidemiologic Analysis. PLOS ONE. 2011;6(2):e17413.         [ Links ]

10. Folly WSD. The Threshold Bias Model: A mathematical model for the nomothetic approach of suicide. PLOS ONE. 2011;6(9):e24414.         [ Links ]

11. DATASUS – Informações de saúde [database on the Internet]. Brasil: Ministério da Saúde. 2011 [cited 2012 May 7].
Available from: Portuguese.         [ Links ]

12. SIDC – Solar Influences Data Analysis Center [Internet]. Brussels: Royal Observatory of Belgium. 2011 [cited 2012 May 2]. Available from:        [ Links ]

13. Microcal Origin [computer program]. Version 5.0. Northampton (MA): Microcal Software Inc.         [ Links ]

14. Szklo AS, Almeida LM, Figueiredo V, Lozana VER, Mendonça GAS, Moura L, et al. Comportamento relativo à exposição e proteção solar na população de 15 anos ou mais de 15 capitais brasileiras e Distrito Federal, 2002-2003. Cad Saude Publica. 2007;23(4):823-34.         [ Links ]

15. Robinson W S. Ecological correlations and the behavior of individuals. Am Sociol Ver. 1950;15(3):351-7.         [ Links ]

16. Havaki-Kontaxaki BJ, Papalias E, Kontaxaki M-EV, Papadimitriou GN. Seasonality, suicidality and melatonin. Psychiatriki. 2010;21(4):324-31.         [ Links ]



Mailing address:
Walter Sydney Dutra Folly
Avenida Vereador Olímpio Grande, s/n – CEP: 49500-000 – Itabaiana (SE), Brazil

Financial support: none.
Conflict of interest: nothing to declare.

Study carried out at Universidade Federal de Sergipe (UFS) – Itabaiana (SE), Brasil.

Received on: 04/10/2012
Accepted on: 07/01/2013

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